News read in tweets. Social lives lived through push notifications. Debates settled by Googling rather than arguing. There’s rarely a moment when we’re truly disconnected, with our smartphone calling its siren song from our pocket or bedside, always there to take up another task or offer a new temptation, and more efficiently than ever.
But in a series of interactive art projects he developed in 2014, highlighted by Creative Applications, designer Ishac Bertran imagines an alternate future. His projects Manual Reader and Memory Device, much like his videogame Slow Games, are technologically advanced machines built in the pursuit of decelerating our interactions rather than speeding them up.
Manual Reader is a screen that lives on a track. It pulls headlines and direct messages from Twitter, but instead of displaying them in sensible 140-character chunks, the tiny screen must be moved across the wall to show a character at a time, vibrating with each new set of pixels along the way, almost as if it’s chewing on the information you’re consuming. And unlike any news feed you know, there’s a physical end, rather than an infinite scroll.
Memory Device records your notes, ideas, and even the beautiful lunch you shared with a loved one. But it has very little fidelity. Designed as the equivalent of tying a string around your finger, Memory Device puts a single line on a 24-hour timeline each time you hit its one and only button. And as a result, the device essentially forces you to do the remembering (rather than an Instagram feed).
Bertran lived with both devices in his studio for a number of months. "They're physical, visible, they are always in the same spot, and they do just one thing," he says. "This helps create a routine, and personally I found them much more pleasant to interact with than with my phone." The biggest shift was what he describes as a "sense of control," rather than being inundated with information, or being compelled to share every memory on social media, his objects used the bounds of the physical world to attenuate his digital habits.
I was curious if Bertran had seen the digital world evolve at all in the past two years, and whether or not any services had begun using some level of restraint. Snapchat, for instance, has exploded over this time, leveraged largely by the ephemerality of memory compared to an internet that never forgets, and the fact that images fade away rather than come back to haunt us again and again in an infinitely scrolling, crystal-clear photo feed.
He didn’t quite see the parallel, but points out that services displaying all this information is only half of the equation. We’re still, by the grace of digital machines, pumping so much into the cloud all the time. "The problem is that we're trying to collect everything, and make sense of all the data we generate," says Technology helps, but sometimes it adds a layer that alienates our own data. I think memories should be much simpler than that.
All Images: via Ishac Bertran